Show Your Work

Jan 24, 2024

If you’re never around kids, you need to change that. Kids are insightful. Kids are truthful. Kids are downright funny. I remember helping my niece out with her homework when she was about 10. It was math. She hated mathing. So, there was sighing and erasing and clock-watching. After a brief 15 minutes of changing fractions to percentages and a celebratory fist-bump, we were done. And she said, “That took 15 minutes! My teacher said it would only take 5 minutes!”  That’s when the ‘real’ homework started…a life lesson that would far exceed the benefits of converting fractions to percentages. Three little words that take extra time, set you apart from the crowd, and guide your journey to a successful destination:  show your work.

Teacher T-Shirts | Show Your Work - Womens T-Shirt
The reality is this…things that only take you 5 minutes to do will take you 15 minutes if you show your work. <<mic drop>> That extra 10 minutes is your investment, your insurance. You do this every day. Your marketing takes you 5 minutes; your communications…well, that’s where you have to show your work. This is why marketing without a strategic communication’s plan is like spending without a budget. Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.

Because nonprofits are typically small, with departments of one, it’s not uncommon for us to use marketing and communications interchangeably. It’s not a big deal as long as you realize you need both. Most marketing efforts are disorganized and disconnected. They might produce immediate results, but they don’t have a long-term appeal. Marketing is knowing what messages will resonate with donors and the best ways to deliver those messages.

Communications is all the content you create and your plan to distribute that content so that you can maintain relationships with the people consuming your content. Communications build on each other, create consistent growth, and lead to strategic choices by donors. See the difference?

This little piggy went to marketing.

These example makes me love marketing. It gets people to open your mail and wonder what you’re going to do next. It’s that little dash of moxie that resonates with the recipient. Ahhhh, it’s so fun!

But when you are communicating it’s clear over clever. As Brene Brown (no relation, unfortunately) would say, “Clear is kind”. But first, you have to do some scary things.

You have to be willing to vulnerably tell your story. You have to be thoughtful. You have to be willing to go against outdated nonprofit industry norms. You have to be willing to recognize that there are no quick wins or shortcuts.

Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. || Brene Brown ...

You, a nonprofit ninja, understand that a generous donor selflessly gave their own discretionary dollars so that someone they have never met can have a better quality of life than they do now. Do your donors know that? The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your mission—and how people feel and what they understand about your mission affects how they value it. In other words, it’s not obvious. You have to make your case. Stir people. Dig deeper. Prove that you’ve thought this through and that your mission is not only attainable, but a game-changer. This not only leads to outstanding work, but it helps you stand out.

Big wins happen when you combine marketing with communications. Yes, it’s hard. And it takes longer. If my niece’s math homework is any indication, about 3X longer. But, making your case and telling your story leads to deeper relationships, bigger donations, and ultimately changing the world for the better. In other words, show your work.


[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc. 

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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